TFK Explains: Coronavirus

February 21, 2020
HEALTH MATTERS This street in Beijing, China, is quiet on February 8. People in cities throughout China have been told to stay home to prevent the spread of coronavirus.
THE YOMIURI SHIMBUN—AP IMAGES

This story appears in the February 21, 2020, print edition of TIME for Kids. It was published online on February 13. It has not been updated.

The coronavirus outbreak that began in China has been called a public health emergency. Scientists are working to stop the spread and find a cure.

What is coronavirus?

Coronaviruses are a group of viruses that can infect animals and people. Some cause mild illness, like the common cold, while others lead to serious illness. The type causing the current outbreak is new to scientists.

How did the outbreak spread?

The new coronavirus was first identified in December 2019. It has been linked to a live-animal market in Wuhan, China. It’s possible the virus moved from animals to humans there. Because people who didn’t go to the market now have the virus, experts know it can spread from person to person.

How is the outbreak being handled?

People in Wuhan and at least 13 other cities in China have been told to stay home. Schools, markets, and transportation systems have been shut down. Many countries, including the United States, have put travel rules in place that affect people who live in China and people who have recently visited China. 

On February 11, the illness was officially named COVID-19. Scientists around the world are working on a cure, and the World Health Organization says it and others are doing everything possible to stop its spread.

What are the symptoms? 

Symptoms of COVID-19 include fever, coughing, and difficulty breathing. In rare cases, the illness can be deadly. A doctor who thinks a person might be infected can test to find out. 

How many people have been affected by the illness?

At press time, China has confirmed nearly 60,000 cases of COVID-19. More than 1,300 people there have died. Outside mainland China, there have been 441 confirmed cases and three deaths.

In the U.S., 14 cases have been confirmed. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says the virus “is not currently spreading” in the U.S. 

What can I do to stay healthy?

It’s very unlikely you or anyone you know in the U.S. will catch COVID-19, but flu and other illnesses are common in winter. To learn how to protect yourself against illness in general, see “Staying Healthy,” and if you have questions, talk to a trusted adult.

Stop and Think! How do you know information about a public health issue is trustworthy? There’s a lot of misinformation about COVID-19. How can you help people sort fact from fiction?